Tag Archives: Evangelism

Peter and How Jesus recalibrated his view of reality and fishing.

Have you ever had your idea about reality recalibrated?  You might say, “Yeah, I used to be an Atlanta Braves fan, until they traded everyone away and started losing.”  Good point, but this is not what I am talking about. I do not mean to be persuaded as to another point of view because circumstances change or because new evidence is provided. What I mean instead is, that which was once was reality ceases to be.  It gives way to a new (real) reality that causes an unstoppable and utterly complete paradigm shift.

I have often heard about people who have been trapped in blizzards and were forced into using a pocket knife to sever a trapped leg out from under a boulder so that they could get to shelter. The reality of life becomes suddenly more important than the need for a leg.   Their idea of pain is recalibrated.   I have heard about POW’s who begin to view torture as normal (because they know that pain is an indicator that they are alive), or prisoners in Auschwitz engaging in activities that would seem gross and inhumane in order to survive. See the story of Roman Frister or Victor Frankl for more on that.

What if I were to tell you that our idea about what is the “good” can be recalibrated by a fresh glimpse of reality? It is even more than that. It isn’t only that our idea about what the “good” changes (that places too much importance on our ability to think); in reality, that which is the good itself completely changes around us.

Have you ever learned a new word, or come across a fact that you previously didn’t know? Have you noticed that when this happened, all of a sudden you started hearing that word used in conversations, you started seeing it in books, or that fact that you just learned suddenly shows up in every article you read? It isn’t that those things have just come to light. It isn’t that because you learned them, all of a sudden they exist. In truth, it is because they exist—and because they have been imparted in you that now you notice things around you that you didn’t notice before. You are different.

Do you know the story about the calling of Simon Peter?  If you don’t, there is no better time to brush up on it than now!  The story is located in Luke 5:1-11 and it is captivating.

Done reading it? Short and potent, huh?

To begin, this story doesn’t take place in a synagogue, nor does it involve a hushed crowed listening to an intellectually learned and eloquent disquisition on a Psalm.  Instead, a crowd has gathered to hear Jesus (a traveling teacher) teach on a smelly boat landing—with fisherman nearby (no doubt smelly)—who are disgruntled (probably using the language or sailors) and cleaning their nets after a night without a catch.

The first glimpse of reality:  Jesus walks into a world of people rather than summoning them to step out of their world and come to him. We often think that God is calling us to leave the pull of earth’s gravity and meet him somewhere in the sky. This couldn’t be further from the truth.  If we all lived in California and Heaven was located in Hawaii; and all we had to do to get there was swim the whole way, how many of us would make it?  There would be some who would drown nearly as soon as they started.  Some would drown a hundred feet in.  Some would make it a mile.  The triathalets might make it several miles.  But the point is, we would all drown.  Unless Hawaii was moved closer or we were carried to Hawaii, none woud make it.  God did this for us.

God became a man. He came to us. There is no way we can go to Him. The last folks who tried by way of a huge tower were stopped dead in their tracks. They got pretty high, but God still “came down” and stifled them. We don’t have the ability to climb that high.

So—the boys (professional fisherman—serious anglers) have just returned from a night of fishing—they caught nothing.  While they are maintaining their gear, and probably complaining, Jesus hops onto the boat belonging to one of the fishermen, Peter.  He tells Peter to take the boat out to the deep water and to lower the nets.  So, let us set the scene:  Peter is an expert fisherman and Jesus is a traveling preacher (who has probably never fished in his life) who has jumped on a fishing boat (without so much as an “excuse me but I’m going to be joining you”), and is now giving a trained angler instruction on how to fish.  Imagine for a moment a professor of postmodern Spanish History at some Ivy League school walking into an auto garage and telling the mechanics to let him look over the engine.

Now—Jesus doesn’t get right to it—telling Peter how much his life is lacking because Christ isn’t in it—No.  Instead, he plays up to Peter’s greatest strength—fishing.  Jesus basically jumps in the boat and says, “Bro, I need your help!  Please help me!”  Now this is realistic.  I am sure Peter’s nautical abilities have been relied upon before.  People know he is an expert on the water, and an expert at catching fish. In this case, Jesus needs a platform from which to teach and he needs a source of amplification.  He needs Peter, because he cannot simply preach from a drifting boat.  He needs Peter to steady the vessel so he can effectively teach from a stationary position.  He also intends to use the natural sound carrying properties of the water as a natural amplification device.  This is all very realistic.  It shouldn’t surprise us that Jesus relies on humans for help.   If you remember simple pleas for help from Jesus like, “Give me a drink,” then you will see this request as the same.  Often times, Jesus puts people through tests.

What I find interesting is that Jesus isn’t really “teaching.”  He is fishing.  He is fishing from a fisherman’s boat, with a fisherman, but he isn’t after fish.  He is after the fisherman, himself!  He is fishing in a fishing boat to catch a fisherman. In Peter’s world, when he catches fish, the fish die in the process.  In Jesus’ world, when he catches fish, they begin to live.  This story converges two different realities of fishing.

Reality is about to be changed.

Peter was no doubt very adept in the water.  For this reason, he was probably able to put his boat steering skills on autopilot and listen to the teaching of Jesus. He had no choice—and he was helping!

I am reminded of a guy who was a skeptic who started attending this youth group. They decided to take a retreat, but because they lived in a country in which Christianity was illegal, they had to figure out a way to get to the camp which was a few kilometers away and would have police all along the route. The skeptic, however, had powerful parents. The mom actually once dated the chief of police. She phoned this man and said, “Do you remember me?” He replied in the affirmative and asked what he could do for her. He granted them the request to go. They also needed the permission from the Minister of Interior. It just so happened that his mother knew the minister of interior. With a second phone call the trip was set. The young man actually went with the camp organizers three days in advance to set the camp up. He helped set up the living quarters, the teaching areas, and the recreation activities. He was saved on the second day of the camp. You could say he played a role in planning, organizing, and executing his own conversion. Peter is pretty close here!

Now, when the sermon is over, we expect Jesus to thank Peter for his services and to be taken back to shore and to go on his way.  This would be reality.  Instead, this land-loving carpenter gives orders to the professional fisherman concerning how and where to catch fish. This is a new reality.  It is also a test.

Jesus commands him to “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”  Now, let us be honest: this may be the most absurd suggestion ever given to a fisherman.   There is only one right response to such a situation:  “Get off of my boat you moron!”  After all, Peter knows that the fish they are after in Sea of Galilee do not live in the deep water, but rather, in the shallower, more oxygenated areas near the mouths of streams.  This is how they stay alive (eating the bait fish entering from the streams).  Secondly, it is daytime.  The fish they are after congregate under the rocks during the day.  They are night feeders.  If you go to the Sea of Galilee today, you will see the fishermen fishing at night.  Not the day.  William M. Christie notes,

“We have seen shoals at ‘Ain barideh and ‘Ain et-Tabigha so great as to cover an acre of the surface, and so compact together that one could scarcely throw a stone without striking several.  In such cases the hand-net is thrown out with a whirl.  It sinks down in a circle, enclosing a multitude, and these are then gathered in by the hand, while the net lies at the bottom.”

This may sound foreign but it isn’t.  Go to YouTube and type in, “cast net for mullet” and see that it happens TODAY in the South.  In fact, I learned to fish using a cast net. I once heard a man say, give a young man a cast net and he will never starve. That is great wisdom.

Now—The Sea of Galilee drops off into deep water very close the shoreline, and is dangerous in many areas for swimming.  Casting for fish is either done by boat or—for more experienced fishermen, standing in the water.  The fisherman in this lake know that successful fishing takes place at night.  The very idea that a preacher would suggest dropping the nets in the day is bordering on the absurd.  Now, Peter isn’t a teacher.  He knows very well that he cannot enter into the debates about the law or the finer points of the Sabbath—but he does know a thing or two about fishing.  He replies to this request with sarcasm:

“Teacher!  We toiled all night and took nothing!  But at your word, I will let down the nets.”

Let me do my best to paraphrase this exchange:  “Listen teacher, me and my boys are pros.  We know were the fish feed—it’s along the shore and at night.  In fact, we were out there all night and didn’t catch a darn thing.  We are tired, and I have stayed awake much longer than I would have liked—helping YOU—serving YOU—ever since you hijacked my boat.  You rabbis think you know everything and now you think you can hop on my boat, preach to a bunch of peasants, and then tell me where to tell me to fish?  Very well!   We will go do it.  Let’s just see who knows about fishing!”  It reminds of the scene in Jaws where the salty sea captain Quint, tells the college trained rich boy, Matt Hooper, “It proves one thing Mr. Hooper:  That you college boys don’t have the education enough to admit when you’re wrong!”

In fact, when Peter calls Jesus, “Teacher,” the word used is “epistates” which not only can mean teacher but more accurately, “boss,” or “chief.”  It is a term of sarcasm.  So, tired and weary—and annoyed—Peter and his team set out to fish the deep water in the daytime.

But something happens. Reality strikes.  They catch a great wealth of fish.

He hauls in a large catch.  The nets break the catch is so heavy.  He signals over for help and both his boat, and the boat of the helpers become so full, they both begin to sink.  This is worth commenting on.  He signals rather than calling for help.  Just as we saw Jesus use the sound carrying characteristics of water, Peter doesn’t want to inform EVERYBODY about the fish.  Financial secrets must be kept! This is his livelihood. If you were a beggar and lived among other beggars and you found a supply of food, would you tell everyone where it was at? This is a question worth pondering.

He waves them over discretely.  Jesus is watching this behavior as well.

This next part is the gem of the story:  You see, Jesus has approached Peter at the point of his greatest strength:  fishing.  But Peter isn’t shocked at the catch—at least not for long.  What shocks him is that this person, Jesus, has obviously made a choice between money and something else.  Here is a man who could be the best fisherman in the world.  He has caused Peter to catch an abundance of fish—when the fish weren’t supposed to be there.  The thing is, Jesus doesn’t want it.  He doesn’t care about the fish—instead he is wandering around the Sea of Galilee teaching the crowds for free. He is interested in something else.

For the first time in his life, Peter has met someone who is driven by something greater than mammon.  Could you imagine meeting someone who could shoot 10 under par—every round they played—at any golf course in the world—giving that up so that they could wander around rural driving ranges and giving free talks on a second birth?  All night, Peter and crew work tirelessly to catch fish—but this man—says, “drop the nets,” they catch the motherload—and he isn’t cashing in? He is more interested in people.

Peter knew that anyone with this knowledge of fishing could be rich instantly.  So, why was Jesus, a poor traveling teacher—traveling around teaching people for nothing?  What could possibly be worth more than 2 boats full of fish? Like Isaiah, Peter knows instantly that he is in the presence of someone great and that he is unclean. Reality strikes.  His vocabulary changes.  Where once he called Jesus, “epistates” or “boss,” he now calls him “kyrios” or Lord.  “Teacher” opens the first speech, and this one closes with “Lord.”

Oh, what a little reality will do.

He begins his repentance by asking Jesus to get away from him because he is unclean.  Jesus dismisses this.  Jesus wants to recalibrate Peter’s understanding of reality.  You see, when Peter uses his sarcasm, rather than getting upset, Jesus reprocesses his anger into grace.  Peter is not blind to this.  He has insulted someone holy.  Peter is now acting as if he were a leper in the presence of a healthy man. He thinks that his uncleanness can defile Jesus.  But unfortunatley for Peter, he has never met the giver of life.  He is about to have his world rocked.  In reality, it isn’t that Peter’s sin can defile Jesus; but rather, that Jesus (the Good) can offer Peter the gift of righteousness. Peter’s sin cannot infect Jesus, but Jesus can infect Peter with the Holy Spirit—and as a result, cure Peter’s illness. Reality.

The Son of God did not come to make men good.  The Son of God came to give men life.

Jesus dismisses Peter’s concerns.  He assures him that he will still use his fishing skills, but for a different type of catch.  He was now to enter the business of catching people.  No longer will he catch things that die.  He will catch things and Jesus will give them life.

From this very boat, Jesus caught people from the shore and gave them life—including Peter!

Now, he is offering this to Peter. Reality has changed.

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Worship: Spirit and Truth. What it is and isn’t.

Ravi Zacharias is absolutely correct when he says of worship, “It is the sense and service of God.”  What does that mean?  I want to address today an issue that has become quite controversial in the church.  What is that issue?  Worship.

You hear countless sermons today on music—whether it be contemporary or traditional. Organs or guitars, choirs or praise teams—and how Christians are tearing each other’s eyes out over their particular tastes.  The truth is, music isn’t worship.  Anyone who tells you it is wants you to believe a lie.  Music can be used in worship, it can be a vehicle of worship—but it isn’t worship itself.
In Chapter 4 of the book of John, Jesus gives us an incredible picture of worship though the way he deals with a prostitute.  This is a very loose woman—basically—she wouldn’t be welcomed into most of our churches today (that’s for another day).  It is in this context that Jesus tells us about worship.  Present in the dialogue are a few issues:  First there is Hunger.  Jesus is hungry and the disciples have left to get food.  Jesus is thirsty.  He is at the well looking for something to drink.  We see racial tensions.  A Jew isn’t supposed to talk to a Samaritan.  We see sexual tension.  A man shouldn’t talk to this woman, and this woman shouldn’t be a prostitute.  It is in the midst of this madness that Jesus teaches us about what worship is. Why?  Quite simply, if we ever get God right, the stuff we spend so much time trying to fix, will take a whole lot less time fixing.
Jesus has confronted this woman with her sin.  He tells her in verse 16, “Go call your husband,” and in verse 17, she says, “I have no husband,” and then Jesus replies in verse 18 (my paraphrase), “You got that right—you have 5!”  So what does she do when confronted with her sin?  She does what nearly anyone does when confronted with their sin and the holiness of God:  She skirts the issue.  She dances around it.  She obfuscates.

She wants to move on to the subject of religion.

We need to look at a number of things that are important to realize when it comes to worship:

The first issue to understand is the importance of worship.  At the end of verse 23, Jesus says, “For such people, the father seeks to be His worshippers.”  Why is worship important?  It’s simple:  God is looking for it.  He is looking for authentic worship and sincere worshippers.  It is implied here that these worshippers that God is looking for are hard to find.  We have to realize this though:  Just because God is looking for them doesn’t mean he needs them.  He doesn’t need worshippers, he deserves worshippers.

Psalm 148 says:

]Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord from the heavens;
Praise Him in the heights!
Praise Him, all His angels;
Praise Him, all His hosts!
Praise Him, sun and moon;
Praise Him, all stars of light!
Praise Him, highest heavens,
And the waters that are above the heavens!
Let them praise the name of the Lord…

When it comes to human beings, worship is a conscious choice.  When it comes to nature, worship is automatic.  God created you to be a worshipper, but he seeks you to see if you will fulfil the reason for which you were created—to worship God.  What is worship?

Tony Evans says, “Worship is the celebration of God for who God is and what God has done.”  It is all that I am paying supreme homage to all that God is.  The implication is that worship is recognizing above all, who God is.  We must recognize God as God.  When people worship, but don’t recognize God as God, he isn’t being worshipped.  Worship isn’t taking place.

What is the object of worship?  Verses 23 and 24 say: 23 But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. 24 God is [e]spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”

God is the object of our worship—but not a God you make up.  He is the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Many groups who say they are worshipping, but the God they are worshipping isn’t the father of the Lord Jesus Christ.  This isn’t worship.  God is the father of all creation.  Even nonbelievers recognize that.  He is the Father of the saints.  We recognize that as Christians.  But it is the fact that He is the father of Jesus Christ that makes him unique.

If we miss Christ, we miss the Father.

God is also sprit.  You can’t worship God first with your body.  His essence is not corporeal.  This means his is not material.  He is a person, but he has no visible body.  He is an invisible person.  If you are going to worship him, you must begin in the invisible part of you.  It is possible to be physically in the place of worship, but not have the requisite heart of worship.  God is spirit, and he is dealing with the invisible realm, not the visible.

To put it simply, you may have the look of worship.  You may have the smell of worship.  You may have the right clothes on.  You may have the hand movements of worship.  You may even have the right hairstyle or clap on the right beat.  Get this right though:  If all God gets is your body, you are not worshipping God in spirit.  If you aren’t worshipping God in spirit, you aren’t worshipping at all.

Some people will tell you that they don’t feel that they have worshipped unless their body moves.  Ultimately, they are saying, “Worship is about how I feel.”  This is wrong.  Worship is about how God feels when we are done.   Unless your spirit moved, it doesn’t matter what your body did.  Now, don’t get me wrong, the physical can and should be an important part of our worship to God, but it isn’t the most important.  The most important is the spirit.

I see people all the time:  They stand up but don’t sing.  “I don’t like that song,” or “I don’t like that type of music.” When I see this, I want to remind them that God would say, “Hey!  I thought you were singing to me!”  To refuse to sing because you don’t like the song dismisses the fact that God may like to have that song sung to Him!  Who are you or I to choose?  Is the role of the choir to sing to you?  No!  Its purpose is to sing to God.  If you are only coming for you and to sing the songs you like, and to see things that you want to see—you aren’t worshipping God.  You are asking God to worship you.

The barometer is this:  At the end of the benediction, if God doesn’t applaud—something has gone wrong.  God is to be glorified, not us.

You see, God has intrinsic glory.  What does this mean?  Well, if you put a robe on a guy, he becomes a judge.  If you put a white coat on him, he is a doctor.  If you put dress blues on a man, he becomes a marine.  This is ascribed glory. If you take any of those men, and strip him down and put rags on him—he becomes a bum.  Ascribed glory is only given based on a set of circumstances—and it is temporary.  This is not what God is.  God is intrinsically glorious.  This means that His glory is and cannot be taken.  As wet is to water or blue is to sky, Glory is to God.  It is intrinsic.

The next issue is what could be called, the spheres of worship.  In verse 20 we see the woman say, 21 Jesus *said to her, “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth.”

What Jesus says is that first of all, worship is not a place.  Worship is a state.  It isn’t first about where you are, it is about who you are.  If your life isn’t a continuous act of worship, showing up on Sunday at a building with a steeple is worth nothing.

In 1st Corinthians, Paul says that “your body is a temple,” the church of the living God.  Put it this way, you don’t go to church—you are church!  If the spirit of God is in you, you couldn’t leave church if you wanted to. The question isn’t about what is happening at the local church house, the questioning is what is going on in your internal church—the one that is open for business 24 hours a day and seven days a week.  If you think that church is only on Sunday and ends at noon, then you are missing the point in a major way.  Worship is a way of life, not a place you go to.  Why wasn’t Daniel fazed when the edict was sent out that he couldn’t pray?  Today we would gather together and have a prayer service if our religious rights were challenged like that.  Daniel didn’t have to have a prayer meeting.  His life was a prayer meeting.

The reason many of us are messed up is because the only time we are in church is on Sunday.  If we could learn that being in church and worshipping really means us being the people God wants us to be, then we would always be worshipping.  We wouldn’t necessarily need a pastor or a choir—we would be the pastor and the choir.  When worship is real, you become alive.  It becomes like the engine or the car that drives your life!  It becomes your oxygen source.

If the only time we break into praise through song is on Sunday, or if the only time we open His word is on Sunday—or if the only time we fellowship with other believers is on Sunday—why is it any wonder that we are anemic Christians?   Worship isn’t a mountain or Jerusalem.  Worship is you!   It has to be you.  The spirit of God dwells in you!

What about the problems in church when it comes to worship styles?  I will tell you this:  Anyone who has no problem worshipping in private, will have no problem worshipping corporately.    Why?  You haven’t defined worship by a once a week meeting.  You have defined it by John 4—your relationship with God.  Daniel worshipped in private, that is why he could stand boldly and face the consequences of his actions—and beat them.

This is why the Psalmist says, “From the rising of the sun, to the going down of the same.  The name of the Lord deserves praise.”  Your life is worship.

It isn’t about reading a verse day.  It isn’t about a prayer you recite before a meal that you could say backwards and still not mean what you are saying.  No.  It is about saying, “God, I fall down at your feet and I adore you.  I sense your presence and I devote my life to serving you!”

When we understand that the meat we cut on our plate was derived from an animal that God made, or when we realize the tea in our glass was made from water and leaves that God made—when we realize the table our food and tea sit on was cut from a tree that god fashioned—we will be able to say, “God, I adore you.  You are worthy of all praise.”

The final issue is the essence of worship.  Jesus said, “The true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth.”  To put it clearly, if we are going to worship God corporately and privately, then our worship must be both authentic and accurate.  What do I mean?  It must be authentic in your spirit and accurate in his truth. Spirit refers to our attitude, and truth refers to information.

God is spirit.  What this means is that God is both an invisible, immaterial reality.  You can’t see him because there is no matter.  There is no matter because he is invisible.  Reality doesn’t require matter.  Because God is spirit, for us to link our spirits to his, there must be a person with a spirit who is pursuing his.  It doesn’t stop there.  The person pursuing him must be pursuing him as truth—as the truth revealed in scripture and in the flesh as Jesus.  What I am saying is that we cannot make God in our image and expect him to cooperate with our idea of worship.  We are made in his image, and we must worship God as truth.

The implication is:  The better you know God, the better you worship.  Truth exists.  There is the true One—God, and there is the true Word—the Bible.  We know God because we have relationship with him and because he has revealed himself in his word.  Unless we know God personally through the truth of his being, and know about God through the truth of his word, we cannot know him.  If we don’t know him, we can’t worship him.

This is why we see so many churches in America today—doing nothing.  Some people want an exciting service of worship, but they don’t want truth.  Some want all the truth, but they want no excitement in worship.  One is emotionalism and the other is dead orthodoxy. Both are wrong.

We are to worship God and serve him out of desire.  It is what we are made to do, and when we begin to know God, it becomes what we want to do.

If my anniversary came around and I bought my wife flowers and when I presented them to her I said, “Because you expect this, and because it is my obligation as your current husband, I got you these,” I guarantee you that they would be thrown back in your face.  We give gifts because we want to.  It is the nature of love to delight one’s self in the other.

This is a desired duty.

If we sense God without serving him, it isn’t worship.  If we serve God without sensing Him, it is drudgery.  God wants your heart and your hands.  Not just one or the other.

Many of us don’t get this.   This is why you see church members who are sanctimonious in the church building but snakes in the parking lot.  Many of these people act as if there is some magic spell in the walls of the church or some magic balm that has been applied to the pulpit.  No.  If we don’t start to worship outside of the church, we will never be able to worship him inside it.  If in the church we sing, “Have thine own way,” and then out in the parking lot we hear, “Get outta my way,” we have just witnessed a religious show that is neither based in spirit or truth.

As Tony Evans notes, “The fuel of worship is God, the furnace of worship is man, but the fire of worship is the Holy Ghost.”

Some of us may not be there yet.  That is ok—so long as we are willing to go there.

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God’s Character

Have you ever known you were called to do something, and you were good at it?  As assured as you can be that you are right for this particular thing, we cannot escape our human instinct that manifests itself in a performance mentality—which is usually judged by numbers.   I remember Michael Ramsden, who is the European director of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, once admitted that he had lived by this rubric, and then at some point had retreated from it.  Though his ministry was based around this numbers system, he says a turning point came when he was preaching in South Africa, at a golf club.   A prominent member of the club had arranged an evening meal. Hoping for 60 people to come, it turned out that 137 came. There were more non-Christians than Christians. The group was comprised predominantly high class business types.  Michael says that he was extremely excited about the meeting, but then minutes before it was time for him to speak, a colleague approached him and said that the meeting was a mistake—that this audience would not be receptive.

He said that he went on to give the worst sermon he has ever preached.  None of his points seemed to connect—no one seemed to be moved at all by what he had to say.  At the end, Ramsden gave an invitation—and he also handed out cards for people to critique what they just heard. 

He asked them to mark their card, on each respective question:  A to E. These people would essentially grade his sermon. 

Grade it:

 A = one of the best sermons you have ever heard

E = The worst.

The card also had a place for them to circle a statement.  From “I became a Christian tonight” to “Never invite me again.”  Ramsden says that after the meeting he couldn’t sleep.  He was intently concerned about what had just happened. 

The next morning at 7:30, the organizer called him.  Michael said his wife answered the phone and told him who was on the line.  He was hesitant when he put the phone up to his ear:

46 people ticked box A – ‘I gave my life to Jesus.’

48 people ticked box B – ‘I want to go to the Bible study.’

4 ticked box E.

Weeks later, most of the people from box B became Christians.   2 from box E did too.

Ramsden said he learned valuable lesson.  He decided that from that day forth,  to always give people the opportunity, no matter how I feel. He said, “My feelings are not a strong basis to operate this ministry from!”

He’s right you know.  It’s about trust—Trusting God.

 

There is a problem though.  Many Christians are not sure if they can morally trust God.  Non-Christians like Richard Dawkins, the Oxford biologist, would say our God is morally abhorrent.  He even goes on to say that the theology of the cross is abusive and sickening. Here is the thing—and I am not trying to exculpate Dawkins—but—if you don’t know God is trustworthy – you can’t trust him.

 

Well, is God trustworthy?  What is his true character?

In the book of Jonah, which is arguably one of the oldest pieces of Biblical literature we have, we see a remarkable story about God’s compassion. The whole city of Nineveh was saved.  Who was Nineveh?  Just know that they were considered an enemy nation to the Israelites—if for no other reason than they enjoyed using the skin of Israelites for lampshades.  Isn’t this remarkable that God would have mercy on them—and use an Israelite to bring the message to them?  You’d think that was encouraging.  Mass salvation of an enemy nation. So, just how does Jonah the preacher feel about it?

Chapter 4:1 – it displeased Jonah greatly – (literally gut wrenchingly exceedingly upset) and he was angry.

As Christians, we get displeased that revival doesn’t come.  Here is Jonah made that it has come.  He hated the people he was preaching to, but he knew God was gracious and compassionate.  In fact, you could say it this way:  The kind of God he was, is Jonah’s problem.

Often we can get angry and upset when we see the people who are our enemies forgiven and restored.  Doesn’t it sometimes seem like God is schizophrenic?  One the one hand he is loving and nice, and on the other, there is fierce wrath.  We need to not set them in opposition to each other, but see them in the light of each other.

In Jane Austin’s novel, Pride and Prejudice, there is a scene where Mr. Darcy says he loves her (Elizabeth) against his will, his better judgment, and his character. (Unsurprisingly she rejects him!)  If there are some people who know you (everything- the real thing), YET they love you – those are the most valuable relationships. To be known warts and all – and loved.  What could be better?

Here is the truth of the matter:  True love does not exist in the absence of judgment – but in the presence of it.  Think of a marriage where as you get to know each other and in the face of flaws etc., you healthily grow in depth.  As they get to know you and your faults better, the love gets stronger.

God really knows you. Do you have emotional stability that comes from knowing that God loves you despite your flaws? (Tis doesn’t mean God is happy with them or that we should excuse them). He knows it. God is not interested in covering things up. That’s not the path to true relationship.

 Have you ever said something stupid to a friend and made them upset or hurt them?  Lets supposing the next day you go to them to apologize.  It’s great when they forgive you.  All is well in the world, right?  But, consider if they say, “It’s nothing” – and walk away, and you know – it’s something! And now there is something between you. It’s not the same.  Things are estranged.  Or suppose we try to make up for it. We make a fuss. We try to serve them in some way to earn the forgiveness rather than look at the problem. We no longer have real relationship. Covering up wrongdoing (in that sense) becomes a barrier to relationship.

Isn’t that what we are after?  Restored relationship?

The word Compassion – comes from ecclesiastical Latin. It literally means ‘With Passion.’ It means to make a moral judgment and be moved from the depth of your being to do something about it. You have compassion when you say, “That’s wrong – we have to DO something!”

 

God is compassionate in this way.  He looks at the world and all its sin, and he is deeply moved to step in.  He goes to a cross, NOT to cover our sings—but to justify us by publically dealing with it.  He has to deal with the wrath of God.  God is fully merciful but also fully just.  He cannot extend mercy while at the same time undermining justice.  Justice isn’t served despite merry, it is served through it. 

Through Christ on the Cross.

The message is nothing other than that while we were still sinners, he found us! He had already paid the price, he has moved! He knows exactly what we are like, and what was required. And he’s with us.

We hear the phrase, “God loves you” so much, it becomes meaningless.  The truth is, God loves you and me because he knows exactly who we are—and what we have done.  He isn’t deluded.

We don’t have to pretend to be someone we aren’t with God.  He is already fully aware.  It isnt any help to myself or God to refuse to be transparent with him.  It also gives me transparency with others. I know I have been forgiven – because he forgave me.

There is only one basis for me to be forgiven:

If I have done wrong to someone – I should not be able to say ‘I’m forgiven’ – except and unless the other party is willing to forgive, and offers it – and through repentance I have received that forgiveness.

If that’s the case, it is not arrogant for me to say, “I am forgiven.”

We are dependent on him, his promise. God has said it! It’s dealt with. So I can be secure, whatever other insecurities I might wrestle with.  Are you totally assured as to the character of God? Are you utterly sure of him?  Are you utterly sure he really means his words of love and assurance? That he has chosen, called and loved you? That’s the reality!

Are you prepared to fail on that basis?

The basis on which I know I can fail, is that I know it’s not about me. I do and can blow it. When preaching or leading worship, it’s not about how many respond etc. I am okay of others reject me on the basis that God has accepted me.

We need confidence – to trust the God who transforms lives.

In all other worldviews God can be merciful, by passing over his justice. For us, it’s not at the expense of his justice, BOTH operate together.

 

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White Privilege

While I usually like what Matt Chandler has to say, I think he has ventured into territory that he should have left untouched; or at least he should have thought about his words before saying them.  Chandler explained recently that white privilege is not like blatant racism, and folks who live through it may never have a racist bone in their body—but it is racist nonetheless.  Seems harmless right?

Chandler noted:

“What is so deceptive about white privilege is that it is different from blatant racism or bias…A privileged person’s heart may be free from racist thoughts or biased attitudes, but may still fail to see how the very privilege afforded to him or her shapes how he or she interprets and understands the situations and circumstances of people without privilege.”

He goes on to say that most whites are unaware of their ubiquitous privilege.  He warns emphatically that thinking whites and blacks are playing on the same field is not right.

“The challenge with white privilege is that most white people cannot see it,” Chandler explained. “We assume that the experiences and opportunities afforded to us are the same afforded to others. Sadly, this simply isn’t true.”

This is the same sentiment fomented by the likes of Barack Obama who says that all Americans must have the same fair shot at success—the same opportunities.  Now, I have had all the same opportunities that Michael Jordan had.  The problem is, he has talent and I don’t.  Is this black privilege?  Have I been disenfranchised or not given a ‘fair shot?’  No.  It is a matter of his having skills that other people are willing to pay for.  Just because a black guy is interested in golf, should he be given a spot in the USGA U.S. Open next year?  No!  It seems that it is only in sports or entertainment that the left allows merit to rule.

Chandler then notes:

 “It has been my experience that there are few things that enrage a large portion of white people like addressing racism and privilege.  We want to move past it, but we are not past it. Clearly, we are not past it. So, let’s press in to it.”

By ‘press into it,’ Chandler clearly means that he is going to make statements about the Michael Brown situation in Ferguson, Missouri.  And by ‘enrage a large portion of white people,’ he clearly means anyone who disagrees with his comments.  What he fails to mention is that this talk of white privilege also enrages a large portion of black people.   Shelby Steele, Walter E. Williams, and Thomas Sowell have all written innumerable pages on the fact that white privilege is a myth.  Why doesn’t he include them in his ‘enrage’ statement?  Oh, it’s because they aren’t real black people.  They don’t count.  Right?

The Christian Post says this:

“When Chandler was asked on Twitter what white privilege had to do with Brown’s murder, he correlated the feelings of the community of Ferguson to the fact that the treatment just isn’t the same for those of a different community.”

What was Chandler’s response?  Well here it is:

“The facts are still being debated, and I am hopeful that justice will take place once those can be established, but the way white people tend to perceive the situation in Ferguson, Missouri and in situations like this is through distinctively white lenses.  We believe that our experiences, histories and benefits of our hard work are universal experiences for everyone. This is simply not true. I’m not a sociologist, but I’ve read enough, lived in enough places and have enough friends that I’m beginning to understand what motivates the frustrations and anger that can exist deep in the hearts of young black men.”

Here is what people do when they say things that sound wonderfully erudite, but at second glance are completely nonsensical.  He makes a lofty claim and then runs for cover by saying, “oh, by the way…I’m not a sociologist.”  Why is he using his position to make a public statement on such an issue if he isn’t going to claim some sort of authority or at least take responsibility?  He doesn’t do this in the books he tries to sell.  Chandler isn’t a sociologist, yet he makes the above statement anyways. He says what he thinks fits the narrative and then systematically exculpates himself by claiming he isn’t a sociologist.  This is utterly embarrassing.

To thoroughly confront Chandler’s diatribe, let me offer this thought.  If disparities do exist, and they do, isn’t there someone to blame?  Well, Chandler would say, “Yeah, without intending to, whites have caused it.  We are to blame.”  Who does Chandler propose is the solution?  Whites.  We must change the way we conduct ourselves in every area of life in order to fix the problem of white privilege.  from the eminently wise Dr. Thomas Sowell:

“No individual or group can be blamed for being born into circumstances…that lack…advantages.  But neither can ‘society’ be automatically assumed to be either the cause or the cure for such disparities.”

Whites aren’t responsible for it.  Blacks aren’t responsible for it.  It just exists.  And I am not arguing that is equals ought.  I am only arguing that one group cannot fix it; and in the same regard, neither are they the cause!  Trying to fix things externally does nothing.  Sowell isn’t speaking as a Christian, but his statement has more appeal to the gospel message than does Chandler’s.  Chandler is calling for external action, Sowell is saying that external action doesn’t work.

Let me just offer one instance of data.  Did you know that tests were done on IQ and general well-being of students on U.S. military bases in Europe?  Do you know what they found?  That white and black students were virtually the same in all measurable respects.  They were equally smart, equally articulate, equally well behaved, and equally poised for success.  Why is this?  For one, the whites weren’t exposed to the perpetual shame narrative, and second, blacks weren’t exposed to gangster rap and the bigotry of low expectations.  They were all expected to do their work, excel, and behave.  Period.   External factors didn’t shape them to the extreme that they do in the United States, and their true characters shone through.

Could it be that we bring this entire myth on ourselves?  Could it be that whites and blacks are…wait for it…equal?  YES.

It is being force fed down the throats of children in public schools. You know the shame narrative: Whites came to America, exterminated the Indians, brought in black slaves from Africa and beat them and treated them as animals, and then slave-owners wrote founding documents that called men equal—and it all culminates with riots and protests (opposed by whites) in the 60’s that eventually led to the first black president in 2008—though whites opposed him and continue to do so just because he is black.

What they are doing in the schools is taking large swaths of time and focusing in on singular events that further a particular agenda.  This isn’t teaching history.  This is perpetuating an agenda.  The agenda that the academic left have invested in, is this shame agenda.

Now, I fully admit—Indians did die.  We did bring slaves from Africa, horribly enough.  Some whites did oppose Obama because he was black.

While it is true in many places throughout history—and even now— blacks are treated like second class citizens, the data doesn’t support this ubiquitously like we are told.  In fact, some might even go to the extreme of saying that racism and discrimination fluctuate in parallel to each other.  You know something?  That is not what the data shows.  In fact, the unemployment rate of blacks was lower just 10 years after slavery ended than it is now.  I know such a statement will be flagrant at first read, but like Henry Rosovsky says,

“Never underestimate the difficulty of changing false beliefs by facts.”

John Adams said it this way:

“Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”

Secondly, I certainly recognize that America has seen injustice committed on its soil—and it needs to be pointed out and justice should be served.  Has it not been?  The truth is, I think, that a famous historian is right when she noted that, America should be willing to face its past—regardless how virtuous it looks.  What I point out when it comes to slavery is:  Slavery was a worldwide institution since the dawn of man.  It needed no defenders because it had no critics.  Eugene Genovese is right when he notes that

“Race relations did not determine the patterns of slavery in the new world…the patterns of slavery…determined race relations.”

There is nothing exclusively western about slavery.  Even Zora Neale Hurston, the celebrated Harlem academic and writer said —

“The white people held my people in slavery here in America. They had bought us, it is true, and exploited us. But the inescapable fact that stuck in my craw was: My people had sold me…. My own people had exterminated whole nations and torn families apart for a profit before the strangers got their chance at a cut. It was a sobering thought. It impressed upon me the universal nature of greed.”

Reflecting further, Hurston laments:

 “My ancestors who lived and died in it are dead. The white men who profited by their labor and lives are dead also. I have no personal memory of those times, and no responsibility for them. Neither has the grandson of the man who held my folks. . . . I have no intention of wasting my time beating on old graves. . . . I do not belong to the sobbing school of Negroes who hold that nature somehow has given them a low-down dirty deal and whose feelings are all hurt about it. . . . Slavery is the price I paid for civilization, and that is worth all that I have paid through my ancestors for it.”

Why didn’t those quotes make it into Howard Zinn’s A Peoples History of the United States?

Many think that slavery is an exclusively western institution.  Actually, the thing that is exclusively western however isn’t slavery itself—but the movement to end slavery.  Consider, what Orlando Patterson said:

 “There was no word for ‘freedom’ in most non-Western languages before contact with Western peoples.”

You cannot overlook the deaths of 300,000+ white northerners, who didn’t own slaves—who gave their lives to secure a freedom for the slaves that they were in no position to secure for themselves.  Many will counter with, “Those soldiers didn’t know they were fighting against slavery or they wouldn’t have fought.”  While the history seems to show that to be false, we must note:  Without slavery there wouldn’t have been a civil war and without a civil war, we would still have slavery.

Many also think that it is a movement way from the founding documents of our Country that ended slavery ultimately.  This doesn’t jive with the facts.  Did you know many feel the constitution is a “living document?”  Do you realize what they mean when they say this?  They are saying that the laws in the founding documents are not absolute.  Here is the problem, why is their view that the founding documents are not absolute–well, absolute?  Why do they have a view that is absolute, yet deny other views that founded this nation to be absolute.  In fact, the founding principles, specifically the Declaration of Independence were the documents that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. referred to when he cashed his promissory note.  It wasn’t a movement away from America’s founding that helped to further civil rights in America—it was a return to it.

In our history classes, we also learn that Columbus is saddled with the accusation of mass genocide of American Indians, even though—he never set foot on American soil, and he came some 300 years before America was born.  Maybe we would want to include in the long list of world genocides—the Europeans killed by the bubonic and pneumonic plagues that swept from Asia to Europe.  Neither of these are “genocide” in the way the term is meant to be used.  People unfortunately die as their immunities are not able to handle illnesses.  The native Americans were killed by diseases for the most part—why is that called genocide but the plagues in Europe aren’t?  We are led to believe that white settlers actually murdered through intentional violence, some 2,000,000 native Americans.  This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Did they or are they now talking about William Ellison in classrooms?  He was one of many black slave owners in the south who from all accounts, treated his slaves worse than white slave owners. Maybe we’d want to include the prosperity, amidst devastatingly challenging times by Sarah Breedlove, aka Madam C. J. Walker—who became the nation’s first female self-made millionaire marketing a line of beauty and hair products for black women.

Finally, in terms of the history of white privilege, I do wonder why these events don’t make it into the shame narrative:  The Norman Conquest, Irish Potato Famine, Decline of the Hapsburg Dynasty, Napoleonic and Czarist adventurism, and gratuitous speculations and insults about the intelligence of Europeans of Polish decent.  Why don’t those make the list?

I think that we need to examine the history and be more open minded when it comes to those of other races—But—why is it that when statistics show that black applicants for conventional mortgage loans were turned down at twice the rate for white applicants, the media went ballistic crying racial discrimination and white privledge—But when those same whites were turned down almost twice as often as Asian Americans — no one thinks that is racial discrimination?

Further—from personal anecdotal evidence—we are in the process of adopting a black infant.  Why is it that we are forced to watch innumerable movies perpetuating the Roots narrative (which the author Alex Haley admitted was a myth) and shaming us for being white and having the audacity to adopt a black child?  I would have little problem with it—IF—the same documentaries existed so that black couples who adopt white children could receive the same shame narrative.

Here is Walter Williams:

“What would you think if your 8-year-old came home and told you that “white privilege is something that white people have, meaning they have an advantage in a lot of things and they can get a job more easily?  You would have heard that at the recent 15th annual White Privilege Conference in Madison, Wisconsin, attended by 2,500 public-school teachers, administrators and students from across the nation.

The average parent has no idea of the devious indoctrination going on in classrooms in many public schools. What follows are some of the lessons of the conference.

In one of the workshops, “Examining White Privilege and Building Foundations for Social Justice Thinking in the Elementary Classroom,” educators Rosemary Colt and Diana Reeves told how teachers can “insert social justice, anti-racist information” into their lessons that “even little kids” can understand.”

Much of the public’s understanding of ‘white privledge’ comes solely from public school indoctrination.  If it is a fact, teach it.  The problem is, who is deciding that white privledge is a fact?  Is there a special caste of thinkers who have access to knowledge that we as common Americans don’t?

Shelby Steel thinks it’s a myth.  “I grew up in segregation, so I really know what racism is. I went to segregated school. I bow to no one in my knowledge of racism, which is one of the reasons why I say white privilege is not a problem.”

Steele claims,

“The real problem is black irresponsibility. … Racism is about 18th on a list of problems that black America faces. It is White peoples preoccupation with guilt and compensation such as affirmative action is actually a subtle form of racism,” writes Steele in his book White Guilt.

“One of the things that is clear about white privilege, and so many of the arguments for diversity that pretend to be compensatory, is that they advantage whites. They make the argument that whites can solve [black people’s] problems. … The problem with that is … you reinforce white supremacy. … And black dependency.”

“White privilege is a disingenuous idea.” 

He argues in contrast that what really exists is“ minority privilege.”

Steele notes,

“If I’m a black high school student today, there are white American institutions, universities, hovering over me to offer me opportunities. Almost every institution has a diversity committee. Every country club now has a diversity committee. I’ve been asked to join so many clubs, I can’t tell you. … I don’t have to even look for opportunities in many cases, they come right to me.”

Steele admits there are problems. 

“The fact is,” he adds, “we got a raw deal in America. We got a much better deal now. But we can’t access it unless we take … responsibility for getting there ourselves.”

So, what about responsibility?  It is hard to think that black culture writ large is taking responsibility when we consider the knockout game, the senseless killing of a WW2 veteran in a parking lot, or the killing of an Australian baseball player by black youth who were bored.  Further, we hear stories from both Philadelphia and San Francisco that talk about black students who beat up Asian students.

As Thomas Sowell laments,

“This is especially painful for those who expected that the election of Barack Obama would mark the beginning of a post-racial America.  While Obama’s winning majorities in overwhelmingly white states suggests that many Americans are ready to move beyond race, it is painfully clear that others are not.”

Sowell is right to continue,

“When black schoolchildren who are working hard in school and succeeding academically are attacked and beaten up by black classmates for “acting white,” why is it surprising that similar hostility is turned against Asian Americans, who are often achieving academically more so than whites?”

But, it isn’t just blacks doing this.  It is all troubled human beings.  We see the same phenomenon happening in lower class white Britain.  The white brits who do well are beat up by those who don’t.  It has nothing to do with race—it is all jealousy and a refusal to rise out of intellectual poverty.

 

I think, however, the white privledge myth has been most perpetuated through a lack of understanding the history of American success.  The clearest example of today’s misguided policies comes from examining the history of the American South.

The old South was a society that was three tiered.  Blacks and common white folks were dominated by white elites who played up racial tensions to keep power.  Did you know, “At the height of slavery, in 1860, less than 5% of whites in the South owned slaves. The eminent black historian John Hope Franklin wrote that “fully three-fourths of the white people in the South had neither slaves nor an immediate economic interest in the maintenance of slavery.””

Far from boosting it economically, slavery and the Civil War devistated the South—both in terms of capital and human capital.  Both blacks and whites were affected.

In 1938, FDR created a national commission to study what he termed “the long and ironic history of the despoiling of this truly American section.” At that time, most industries in the South were owned by companies outside the region. Of the South’s 1.8 million sharecroppers, 1.2 million were white (a mirror of the population, which was 71% white). The illiteracy rate was five times that of the North-Central states and more than twice that of New England and the Middle Atlantic (despite the waves of European immigrants then flowing to those regions). The total endowments of all the colleges and universities in the South were less than the endowments of Harvard and Yale alone. The average schoolchild in the South had $25 a year spent on his or her education, compared to $141 for children in New York.

Facts like these don’t disappear overnight and they do affect how culture progresses.  In 1974, a National Opinion Research Center (NORC) study of white ethnic groups showed that white Baptists nationwide averaged only 10.7 years of education, a level almost identical to blacks’ average of 10.6 years, and well below that of most other white groups. A recent NORC Social Survey of white adults born after World War II showed that in the years 1980-2000, only 18.4% of white Baptists and 21.8% of Irish Protestants—the principal ethnic group that settled the South—had obtained college degrees, compared to a national average of 30.1%, a Jewish average of 73.3%, and an average among those of Chinese and Indian descent of 61.9%.

It was convenient for policy makers and pundits to ignore these facts about white culture while advancing programs only to help minorities.  Whites were treated monolithically.

While some whites are successful, some blacks are as well.  While some blacks live in poverty, so do some whites.  While there are racist whites, there are racist blacks.

The human problem is the issue.  Man is fallen and cannot help himself through programs, laws, or ideas with no evidence for their virtue like “diversity.”  It is only when man is changed from the inside that the culture writ large will see any discernible change.

 

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Yeah you know that whole Tony Dungy thing?

With just a few words, the great coach and football analyst Tony Dungy has literally found himself in a red hot imbroglio.  It’s really a shame too.  Let’s look at his comments:

Dungy noted in an interview, that if he were still coaching today, that he wouldn’t have drafted Sam “(n)ot because I don’t believe Michael Sam should have a chance to play, but I wouldn’t want to deal with all of it. It’s not going to be totally smooth…things will happen.”

I cannot for the life of me see any problems with this statement.  Let’s take something a bit less controversial.

What if a player was drafted in the 7th round who actively campaigns for the KKK?  What if he had made numerous comments in interviews that included the “n word,” referred to blacks and other minorities as less than human, and was regularly on the cover of white supremacy literature?

What if a player was drafted in the 7th round who was an ardent supporter of the 9-11 terrorists?  What if he said that he was going to use his platform in the NFL to bring attention and provide support to al Qaeda terrorists?  What if numerous interviews found him denouncing Americans and calling for jihad on our soil?

If either of those were the case, would you have a problem with Tony Dungy saying, “I do not believe ________’s (white supremacy) (Islamic faith) will be a distraction to his teammates or his organization,” like he said in a statement on Pro Football Talk.com? What if he went on to say about the two cases, “I do; however, believe that the media attention that comes with it will be a distraction? Unfortunately we are all seeing this play out now, and I feel badly that my remarks played a role in the distraction. I wish __________ nothing but the best in his quest to become a star in the NFL and I am confident he will get the opportunity to show what he can do on the field.”

You have to admit, considering those two egregious hypothetical situations, that is an extremely benign statement! In this case, we have a known racist or supporter of terrorism and Dungy still wants the guy to get a “shot” and to “show what he can do on the field.” I think people would argue for a more vociferous critique by Dungy! “This isn’t enough…he is a Christian, and a man of character. He must stand against racism against blacks.” “How can he support the 9-11 attackers? He must not allow this to be swept under the rug!”

So, now—let’s look at the situation as it really is. We have an openly homosexual Defensive player named Michael Sam drafted in the…7th round by the St. Louis Rams. Upon his draft, leading up to it and following it, he has been the recipient of lavish media praise. In fact, Oprah was in talks to make a television show about him, but it was subsequently nixed because it was decided by his drafting team to be a distraction!

Dungy was asked if he would have drafted Sam. I think a succinct, “No” would have sufficed, but the interviewer wanted more. So, we have Dungy’s comments.

Notice in his comments, he didn’t condemn Sam for his lifestyle choice. He didn’t say, “eww gross.” He didn’t say that Sam was less than human. On the contrary, he said that HE wouldn’t have drafted Sam, but that he felt he deserved a chance to prove himself on the field. What is the problem?

Here is the problem:  On Tuesday, Pardon the Interruption’s Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon were discussing former NFL coach Tony Dungy’s recent comments that media attention would have pushed him away from drafting Sam. Kornheiser said he was optimistic that NFL players would be personally tolerant of Sam, though.

And then this was said:

“I’m more skeptical,” Wilbon countered. “I think there is a component, a subculture of the religious Right, that is very influential in football — maybe not the other sports, but football — and I don’t see this going as smoothly as you see it.”​

Now, what does Wilbon mean when he talks about the subculture of the religious Right?  Well, he is talking about Dungy!  He is talking about the players who circle up and pray after games.  He is talking about Tebow.  He is talking about Christians.

Christianity makes liberals nervous.

You have to remember, Christianity makes some exclusive truth claims.  First of all, it claims that Jesus Christ is The way.  It claims that all men are sinners and in need of redemption that humans are not in a position to secure for themselves.  It claims that who we are is defined by our identity…in Christ—rather than the things we do, or our biological DNA.

The above is highly controversial to the Left.  The Bible even tells us that it will be controversial.

The first statement, that Christ is THE way—that runs right into the oncoming traffic of the leftist ideology.  The liberal believes that all ways are THE way—well, with a caveat:  They believe they are the most tolerant people on the planet—they say that all ideas are equal—but then comes the clincher:  All ideas are equal, until you disagree with the idea that all ideas are equal (which if you really think about it, necessarily follows. If all ideas are equal, then it would also affirm the view that says “no ideas are equal.”  This contradicts.  It cannot be tenable).  At that point, they become the most intolerant group of people on the planet.  They aren’t interested in debate, dialogue, or Obama’s favorite word, “bipartisanship.”  They are only interested in destroying the opposing view.

Christians on the other hand, believe that all people are equal, but all ideas are not.  It is wrong to embrace Nazi ideology.  It is wrong to embrace ideology that affirms pedophilia.  Liberals believe that all ideas are equal but all people are not.  My evidence:  Read Wilbon’s quote.  They are not attacking Dungy’s ideas—or engaging with the arguments:  They are attacking HIM and this fringe element called the religious right.  Notice, they aren’t saying, “I philosophically oppose the view that all men need redemption from God.”  They are instead saying, “Tony Dungy just admitted that Tony Dungy isn’t a skilled enough coach to deal with the distractions of doing the right thing…”  You even have people saying, “Dungy is entitled to his opinion, he just cannot say it aloud.”  Wow—so now, Dungy, who is a black man…is now a second class citizen who is unable to speak his mind?  My how times have changed.

The second statement:  All men are sinners and in need of redemption.  Well, aside from the obvious objections to masculine pronouns that feminists will bring up, this goes against the entire humanist doctrine.  In their view, all people are good; it is society that lets them down.  It is the culture who is to blame for bad behavior, not the person themselves.  They take away all need for personal responsibility.

Why is it that when crime happens, instead of punishing criminals, they always want to find the root cause of it (by root cause, I mean…the societal cause)?  They are not interested in dealing with the personal responsibility of certain actions.  The person CHOSE to commit a crime.  It doesn’t matter what society has or hasn’t done.  They are only interested in how the crime came to happen.  They don’t care to ask, “Are people flawed,” but rather; “why was he born into socioeconomic conditions that produced this type of behavior?”  It is a very different view of human nature.

The other side of this matter is that the left believes that we are all the product of time plus matter plus chance—and as a result, our DNA dictates to us what we will do.  We cannot be responsible for things that happen at the microbiological level.  We are compelled to behave in this way without any choice.  It is determined.  If that were true though—and everything was predetermined, then does the statement, “He should keep his opinion to himself” have any meaning?  On the naturalistic view, which the left overwhelmingly affirms, I haven’t weighed any arguments, or looked at the pros and cons of that statement.  I am just wired to believe it is true.  Why should that hold any weight?

The Christian believes otherwise.  The Christian believes that man is born flawed—as Kant said:  “From the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was made.”  We cannot resist sin, or doing wrong on our own.  We are drawn to it and consumed by it.  In the Christian view, sin doesn’t just describe something we do; it describes a power that controls us.  Until this problem is dealt with, we cannot escape it.  We will continue to be owned by it.  As a result, we need redemption—and it is a redemption that we, because of our sinful nature, are not in a position to secure for ourselves.

 

Finally, the idea of ontological being.  The humanist or liberal believes that we are defined by what we do. The Christian believes we are defined, by our being—and specifically the being of Christ in us.  If we don’t have Christ in us, we are ontologically dead.  The liberal would say that “I am a homosexual,” or “I am a heterosexual.” Even the liberal Christian will say, “I am a body who has a soul,” or, “I am a social activist—and I believe in God.” It is enough to be those things.

The Christian on the other hand says, “I am a Child of God…and I DO things.”  Being is always before action to the Christian.  Being a homosexual or heterosexual is something that we DO.  Being a social activist is something I do.  What I do flows from my being.  My being doesn’t flow from what I do.  I cannot truly be in a relationship until I decide to ACT.  I have to talk to my spouse.  I have to engage with her.  If I lived in a vacuum, I would not be in relationship.  It requires action.  It requires doing.  Saying, “I am a heterosexual” really has no meaning at all without action.  Likewise, you will not hear any denunciation of homosexuality in the Bible as long as it is contained in the person.  It is the act of doing homosexual activity that is condemned.  After all, the Bible clearly says that Jesus WAS tempted.  It isn’t that he was tempted that is important.  What is important is that he DIDN’T do what he was tempted to do.  His being informed what he did—and he didn’t sin.

Being on the other hand only requires…well, life.  In the Christian view, it is the fact that Christ enters us and gives us life, that our ontological being is changed.  We are no longer only a lump of flesh and DNA.  We are more:  We are no longer a body who has a soul; we are a soul who has a body.  Another way to say it—Ravi Zacharias routinely says, “Jesus didn’t come into the world to make bad people good.  He came to make dead men live.”  Being.

With those things being said, I think it is clear why there is such a negative reaction by the secular journalists when someone like Dungy says what he says.  It isn’t so much his comments, as they were fairly benign.  No—the problem is that his Christianity is seen as his prevailing ideology.  It is the fact that his being (Christ) informs all that he does.  He doesn’t believe it is his DNA or societal conditions that inform it.  He believes in Christ as the only way, he believes in original sin, and he believes that he IS a Child of God—not a football coach or a heterosexual.

Do you see the problem?  It is a matter of truth claim.  Dungy and all Christians are making an exclusive claim to truth when they identify as a Child of God.  They are saying that ALL men are flawed, that Jesus is the greatest who exists, and that it is ONLY through Jesus that ALL men can become, unflawed.

Let me put it into the lens of a personal story—and see two reactions to truth:

I once went to get a haircut, and in the middle of my cut, the lady cutting my hair said to the other lady working, “Business is good, but there must be more to life than this.”  I caught her eye in the mirror and said, “You know, in life, we aren’t made happy by what we acquire, but by what we appreciate.”  She was clearly interested, so I went on:  “The trouble as I see it is, that we often think we have nothing to be grateful for, but I think the real problem is, many times we think we have no one to be grateful to.”  She began to engage with me, and told me that she was very fearful about the future; and specifically, about bringing a baby into such an evil world.  I asked her then, “What is more troubling, the evil out there, or the evil inside?”  She agreed that the evil inside was more troubling, and she said, that it often felt like there was a power that controlled her—and that no matter what she did, she always feel prisoner to it.  I told her, “that power is what we call sin—and it doesn’t describe only actions that we do…but like you say, it describes a power that controls us.”  She nodded, and said, “I sometimes wish there was a way to be free from it…its almost like I need a……..”  I interrupted…”A savior?”  She lit up and said, “Yeah!  A Savior.  That is what I need.  What a great word.” 

A couple of weeks later I went back to check up on her…and she immediately sat me and began cutting my hair.  She told me that after our talk, she went home and told everything to her husband.  I thought to myself, “This will be interesting.”  So, I said to her, “what did he say?”   She said, “he said I was preaching at him!?”

Well of course she was.  Can you imagine coming home for dinner and hearing this:  “Hey honey… I need to tell you something….”  First, “You aren’t made happy by what you acquire, but by what you appreciate.”  “It isn’t that you have nothing to be thankful for, but that you have no one to be grateful to.”  “You aren’t held captive by what you do, but instead by a sin that controls you.”  “The only hope you have of getting rid of this sin is a Savior…and that savior is Jesus Christ.”

Was he ready to hear this?  No.  Why was she?  She had stated a cry of the heart when she told her coworker, “There has to be more to life than this.”  That was my way into the game.  The husband on the other hand was just trying to eat.  We need to be very mindful when we talk to people—and actually listen to what they say—to know when to engage them with the Gospel.

Now, I bring that up to show you how the gospel can be effectively communicated without causing a media imbroglio.  I think the left and seculars in general could take note from such a conversation. I don’t know that what Dungy said is any more offensive than the conversation I had with the woman.  He was asked a question and he responded.  Had he refused to respond, he would have been accused of not lending his moral authority to such an important issue in the NFL.

It brings up the issue of tolerance.  Tolerance as properly defined means existing in peace with those who you disagree with.  It has nothing to do with condoning, celebrating, or affirming.  Instead, what it is about is:  People are equal, ideas aren’t.  Because I see all people as equal, and ideas on a merit based plane, I am able to coexist with those whom I disagree.  I engage with their ideas—I do not engage them as people.  A good understanding of tolerance is:  “Gross.  You actually engage in that?  That is disgusting.  I cannot support such egregious behavior, BUT, I am not going to infringe on your rights to do that as long as you don’t infringe on mine.”  That is a textbook understanding of tolerance.

The problem is, tolerance has been redefined to mean, “You cannot disagree with anyone.”  There is a problem.  In saying, “You cannot disagree with anyone,” you are disagreeing with those who say, “You can disagree with anyone.”  It is a self-defeating proposition—it is meaningless.

Can we live in a fully tolerant, free, and just society?  Can those three coexist IF tolerance is defined in this new way?  No.  For justice to occur there will be disagreement.  For disagreement to occur there must be freedom.  For freedom to occur there must be the right to disagree and justice must exist.  If disagreement exists, then the new tolerance cannot exist in a free society.  Or to say it more poignantly, if the new tolerance exists, then there can be no true freedom.

I may disagree with you, but support your right to state your beliefs—that doesn’t mean I support your beliefs.  That doesn’t mean I celebrate them.  That doesn’t mean I would draft you.

 

What may be the most troubling is this:  “Thank God he wasn’t the coach of the St. Louis Rams…And like everyone in America, everyone is entitled to their own opinions.”  Michael Sam is right.  The problem is, there is a priestly class in America who do not really live by that philosophy.

What the media is really saying is, “Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but we do not agree that all people are equal—and some people should keep their mouths shut.”

Dan Graziano from ESPN said this:  “I’m not here to call Tony Dungy a bigot or to dispute his right to say what he wants to say. My point here is that Dungy has a platform and that his words matter to those who work in and follow the NFL. And on an issue such as this, it’s important for a person in Dungy’s position to understand that and to think about the impact his words have on the world at large. Again, he’s welcome to his opinion. He just needs to remember how many people are listening to it.”

He isn’t disputing his right to say it, but he NEEDS to remember how many people are listening.  Where does this moral objectivity come from?  Dungy NEEDS to…?  I have seen other articles that say, Dungy SHOULD refrain…or Dungy SHOULD have kept his mouth shut…

What gives them the right to stand on this moral platform?  If the fringe religious right and their claim to truth is absurd and dubious—then from what entity do we (read ‘they’) draw objective moral truths and duties?  Those are the questions we should be asking—before it is too late.

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Faith or Repentance? Which one should we proclaim?

I have a serious question that I want to put forth. Here goes: Can the gospel be effectively presented without any reference to repentance? What is repentance? It has been defined by one theologian in this way: “Literally a change of mind, not about individual plans, intentions, or beliefs, but rather a change in the whole personality from a sinful course of action to God…Such a change is the fruit of Christ’s victory over death.”

I think from that definition we can see that a true and genuine salvific faith will be accompanied by genuine repentance (Acts 20:21). I don’t see how it could be consistent to proclaim a salvation that preaches faith in God without repentance. Even in other parts of the Gospel, repentance is given such importance that it is stressed over saving faith itself—“there is joy in Heaven among the angels over one sinner that repents (Luke 15:7).” Even the apostles talked about the conversion of Gentiles to Christ as God giving them “repentance unto life (Acts 11:18).” I think it is safe to say that repentance and faith in Christ are inseparable, even though a new convert may be more aware of one aspect or the other.

The question: Can you truly repent without putting faith in Christ? Can you truly put faith in Christ without repenting?

We must keep in mind that this repentance is not the same wrongheaded repentance that we see with Pharaoh in Exodus, Saul in 1 Samuel, or Judas in Matthew. Perhaps the best example of faulty repentance is found in the story of the “Prodigal Son.” You know the story; the young man goes to the far country after having demanded his inheritance. When he gets there, he spends it all and finds himself poor in the middle of a regional economic depression. He hires himself out to a pig farmer in hopes of being able to eat the pig feed. No such luck. He finds himself in quite a predicament. He is hungry. Now, what is the most basic need we must meet in life? Simply put: the quenching of thirst and hunger. It is hunger that makes the boy begin to think. He even begins to contrive a story that he decides he will tell his father—in hopes of ingratiating himself with Dad and becoming a servant so he can repay his debt. This is referred to in Luke as “coming to his senses.” Literally, this means, “he got smart.” Now—what has he gotten smart about? I submit that he hasn’t gotten smart, and realized he wronged his Dad. He is driven by the desire to have one thing: Food! He wants to cure the pain in his stomach. He knows that if he becomes a slave or servant he WILL be fed. This repentance is nothing more than his realization that he can get paid and have food if he will go home. This repentance is driven by his hunger. It is driven by what the boy wants. We don’t see REAL repentance until after the humble act of the father running to meet the boy, and giving him a kiss of reconciliation. Until then, the boy’s repentance is just driven by food.

Is this the kind of repentance we need to preach? I argue emphatically, NO! I fear it IS what we preach, however. Have you heard this before: I know there is a lot of pain in your life…come to Christ and it will be remedied? Or how about: I know life is tough, finances are low, and you have nothing…Come to Christ and be filled? What do both of these appeals rest on? Our happiness—our satisfaction—our repose. It is as if; to some people, Christ is seen as the way to get happy. I submit that Christ is not in the business of making us happy. If he was, and God is perfectly just, if we ever experienced sadness or pain as a Christian, it would be proof of his non-existence! I agree with C.S. Lewis who in his inimitable fashion proclaimed: “I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that.” If our coming to Christ is to find happiness, we will be let down. At the first sign of unhappiness, we will lose faith.

So, what should we proclaim? I think it is simple. Jesus is God, He died on the Cross for OUR sins, and he rose again on the 3rd day. Now, what do we have to do to take advantage of this provision? Well, I will tell you this: Contrary to popular opinion, Christ demands more than just our availability. He demands a metamorphous of life. He demands that we become infected by his “good infection.” He demands that our very spiritual DNA be altered. He demands a new creature with a new mind.

This concerns how we think, what we feel, and what we do. The problem is, Christ doesn’t command us to think a certain way, feel a certain thing, or do anything specifically. This is the error of many of the world religions—and many versions of the Gospel, for that matter. They focus on the epistemological, the existential, or the pragmatic. It isn’t about what we think, what we feel, or what we do.

Yet, then again, it is.

Look—our repentance isn’t an isolated act that spurs a type of predictable behavior. It isn’t like when I repent, my repentance culminates in my going to the Philippines to perform free circumcisions on poor infants. No! I don’t automatically begin reciting doctrinal statements and thinking up new philosophical proofs for God’s existence. No! And, I most certainly will not begin to stretch out with my feelings and encounter the force, as if I were a Jedi Knight. No!

While it is true that knowing Christ is the most intellectually stimulating knowledge that there is, I am not commanded to think anything. While there is no more exhilarating feeling than the feeling we experience in Christ’s presence, I am not commanded to ‘feel’ anything. And most certainly, even though Jesus said, “You will know the true Christians by what they DO,” I am not commanded to do anything.

Our repentance is a change of “stuff.” Our mind changes. Our wants change. Our actions change. Our spiritual DNA is altered. We become infected by the “good infection.” Do you get it? Whatever happens after our change is prompted by God’s work in our lives—not by us. Our change affects what we WANT to do—it affects what we think about—and if affects why we do things. It even affects our interpretation of the word “happy”—it redefines our idea of self, being, or autonomy.

An example: If someone is healthy and then all of a sudden they find out they have—AIDS. What happens? Well, to begin with, they take stock of things they have never thought of before. They think about T-Cells, White Blood Cells, pay more attention to hygiene, and become a part of a community who is infected by AIDS. Now—when a person gets AIDS, do they really become interested in epidemiology, biology, people, hygiene, or health care? No. It is the infection that changes their priorities. Their ‘want’ to live drives what they view as important. It isn’t that they just grow interested in those things. Are they any different than they were 1 minute before their diagnosis? No! It is the knowledge of their change that prompts a new life.

In the same way, when we come to Christ, we aren’t necessarily any more interested in doctrinal statements than we were before, but because we love God, some of us see a change in mind—or growth in desire in that area. Some of us begin to have a calling toward missions. Does that mean that we necessarily want to go to remote parts of the world where our life may be demanded of us any more than we used to? No. What it means is, when our mind changes, we become interested in pleasing God—no matter the area—and no matter the risk.

We are driven by love.

What does it mean to love? To love is to bind one’s self to another. What is the point of love? Well, simply put: it is to delight one’s self in the other.

Let’s supposing, I was on my way home from a long trip. When I get home, I knock on the door and my wife answers. From behind my back I produce a boquet of flowers and a box of chocolates. When my wife says, “Oh John, you shouldn’t have,” I say, “It was my duty to bring you these!” How would she respond?

Now, what if the same situation happened; and in addition to the flowers and chocolates, I have now arranged a babysitter for the night. I tell her, “I have been away, and there is nothing more that would make me happy than to see you smile. I have bought tickets to the movie you wanted to see, and secured reservations at your favorite restaurant. There is no one I would rather spend tonight with than you!” Would it or would it not be weird if she responded: “Make you happy? Why does everything always have to be about you? Why are you always thinking about yourself? Why can’t you ever think about me?” It would be weird because it is the nature of love to delight ourselves in the other. Because I love my wife, I make decisions that are driven by that love. It isn’t that I want to go to a movie, or eat out—on the contrary—it is because I love her and know she likes those things, that I like them too—because I want her to be happy.

It is the same with God.

Our repentance prompts a change in our lives that recalibrates our idea of “happiness,” what we think about, what we feel, and what we want to do. They are all driven by a desire to please God—or to delight ourselves in Him. You could call this Christian hedonism. A desire for pleasure in making God happy.

Now—here is another question: Will we look different than the rest of culture? Answer: absolutely! If we are infected by the “good infection,” would it be questionable if our lives mirrored that of the culture? If we dressed the same, talked the same, thought the same, and invested in the same things: What would this imply? It would imply that we were delighting ourselves not in God—but elsewhere. What is that elsewhere? It is the idol of self. It is humanism. If our drive to pleasure and happiness is based in ourselves, our ideas, our wants, or even in our ‘faith,’ it is faulty.
I bet I caught you off guard with ‘faith.’ Look—if I preach a gospel that says, all you have to do to gain eternal life is have faith in God—you don’t have to do anything—just believe in God. Just trust that God is there. What am I elevating? Not God. I am elevating faith itself. Does God call us to be faithians? Does he call us to give our lives to our faith? No!

Why would we be so ignorant as to have faith in our faith? It sounds silly but it happens all around us.

Consider:  “Faith is believing what you want to believe, yet cannot prove.”

The truth is, many Christians think that is the definition of the word faith. For some it feels liberating. It means being able to believe in anything you want to believe. No explanation is required, indeed, no explanation can be given; it is just a matter of faith. For others, such a definition is sickening. Embracing faith means you stop thinking. As faith increases, reason and meaning eventually disappear. No explanations can be given, and none can be expected. Thus, living in faith is living in the dark.

If you look at both groups, they are experiencing the same problem. By using a wrongheaded definition of faith, they ask the wrong questions, deal with the wrong questions—and ultimately, end up with the wrong answer. Faith isn’t wishful thinking. It isn’t about believing myths or untruths. It neither makes all things believable—nor does it make meaning impossible.

What is the right definition of “faith?” “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen,” writes the author of Hebrews. A few verses later faith is similarly defined as knowing that God exists and that God rewards those who earnestly seek Him.

Maybe the best word we can use to translate “pistis” (the greek word) is the word “trust” or “trustworthy.” Suppose you say you have faith in the government. What does that mean? It means two things. First, you are sure the government actually exists. And second, you are convinced the government is trustworthy; you can believe what it says and trust it will do right.

It is in this way that the writer of Hebrews talks about faith in God. Faith is knowing that God is real and that you can trust in God’s promises. You cannot trust someone who isn’t there, nor can you rely on someone whose promises are not reliable. This is why faith is talked about as the substance of things hoped for and as the evidence of things not seen. Both words carry with them a sense of reality. Our hope is not wishful thinking.

Get this straight: Faith does not make God real. On the contrary, faith is the response to a real God who wants to be known to us:

“I am the Lord, and there is no other;
besides me there is no god.
I arm you, though you do not know me,
so that they may know, from the rising of the sun
and from the west, that there is no one besides me;
I am the Lord, and there is no other” (Isaiah 45:5-6).

So, we are changed because of faith and repentance. Because of our faith, we are changed when we repent. Because we repent, and God changes us, our faith is secured. Because of our faith, we are willing to repent and then we are changed. Do you see? They are both necessary.

If we separate faith from repentance or vice versa, we are not preaching the gospel. We are in danger of what Paul talks about in Galatians: Preaching a gospel that is no gospel at all.

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Do Christians really claim victimhood in order to gain sympathy? Is Candida Moss right?: Martyrdom and its relationship to Witness.

I saw a post on Al Jazeera that reads: “The Bitter Tears of the American Christian Supermajority.”

In the article, the author says—you (secularists) may think that the most persecuted group is the Muslims, or the African Americans, or perhaps the immigrants. On the other hand Christians think they are the most persecuted and oppressed. He gives three anecdotal accounts of how the Christian people have pushed forth their message of undue persecution. In the first he says,

“On March 2, three Baptist ministers in Akron, Ohio, arranged for the local police to mock-arrest them in their churches and haul them away in handcuffs for the simple act of preaching their faith. A video was posted on YouTube to drum up buzz for an upcoming revival show. A few atheist blogs object to uniformed police taking part in a church publicity stunt, but far more people who saw the YouTube video (24,082 views), in Ohio and elsewhere, took this media stunt as reality — confirmation of their wildest fears about a government clampdown on Christianity.”

In his second piece of evidence he cites the controversial Arizona “anti gay” bill:

“On Feb. 26, Arizona’s conservative Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed a bill that would have allowed businesses to refuse services to people who violate their sincerely held religious beliefs — for example, gays and lesbians. Fox News pundit Todd Starnes tweeted that Christians have been demoted to second-class citizenship in Arizona, an opinion widely shared on the right-wing Christian blogosphere, which sees Brewer’s veto as a harbinger of even greater persecution to come.”

Finally, he gives this:

“And the feature film “Persecuted,” a political thriller about a federal government plan to censor Christianity in the name of liberalism, is due out in May. Featuring former Sen. Fred Thompson and Fox News host Gretchen Carlson, the movie received a rapturous reception at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference on March 10 and is of a piece with other Christian films such as “God’s Not Dead,” about a freshman believer bullied into proving the existence of god by an atheist professor.”

 

He goes on to dispute that these anecdotes indicate any real persecution. He says unequivocally that

“More than 75 percent of the United States identifies as Christian; 57 percent believe in the devil, and nearly 8 in 10 Americans believe the Bible to be either the “inspired word” or literal word of God. Despite the constitutional separation of church and state, the government began under President George W. Bush to outsource social welfare programs to faith-based organizations (more than 98 percent, according to one 2006 study, of them Christian churches), and schools with religious ties (mostly Christian) in several states are now well fed by direct public subsidies. But then, American places of worship (again, most of them Christian) have long enjoyed a de facto public subsidy as tax-exempt 501(c)3 organizations funded by tax-deductible contributions. Last month President Barack Obama himself held forth at National Prayer Breakfast about the importance of Jesus in his life.”

He is basically saying, this persecution of Christians is a myth. It doesn’t exist! There may be some persecution of Christians in Egypt or perhaps Nigeria—but in America they are coddled.

The writer tries to get at the orgins of this “orgy of self pity.” He cites Candida Moss in saying that self-pity is “hard wired into Christianity.” In her book, “The Myth of Christian Persecution: How Early Christians Invented a Story of Martyrdom,” Moss pontificates on this theme. Moss says that claiming that Christians have suffered persecution is an admittance of amnesia.  According to Moss,

“Early Christians were persecuted by Rome only sporadically, less for religious heterodoxy than for political insubordination in an empire that was draconian across the board. Early Christian writers Irenaeus, Justin Martyr and Tertullian chronicled such incidents as proof of the faith’s righteousness, laying a scriptural basis for a self-image of eternal persecution.”

She goes on to say that it was Eusebius who “encoded the understanding of the church as persecuted into the history of Christianity itself.”  She goes on to point out that his martyrdom stories were conjured up in an effort to motivate the base. Moss goes on to say, “These tales of persecution — full of blood, cruelty and dodgy “facts” — were enjoyed at the time, much in the way that modern audiences take in horror movies, and the lowbrow gore has long been justified by embarrassed exegetes as a response to the strain of persecution.” Then the dagger—Moss argues, “the textual evidence indicates all these tales of persecution were composed after, not before, Christianity had become the favored religion of the Roman Empire in the early fourth century. In short, they belong to an invented tradition of victimization.” What scholarly evidence does she give to support this claim? None.  She says that for Christian historians, “martyrdom is easily adapted by the powerful to cast themselves as victims and justifying their polemical and vitriolic attacks on others.”

Then the author of the article praises Moss’ study, and goes on to point out that the book

“Has earned favorable reviews for its scrupulous scholarship; it has also aroused much nastiness from Christian critics. Even before the book was released, she told me via email, it was denounced by conservative Christian commentators and she has since received hundreds of angry messages, letters and phone calls.”

Here is what Moss said about the criticism of her book. She wrote:

“Most of these people appear not to have actually read the book but, rather, have heard about it and see it as a further example of persecution. Many of them write to the university and ask it to fire me. An alarming number think that I deserve to be beaten, raped or killed (although blessedly very few of them threaten me directly). Many of the comments are about my character and appearance, but I hear that’s very common for female writers. I’ve been called a “female Judas Iscariot”, a “demon,” possessed by Satan, evil, the Antichrist and a Holocaust denier. “

 

Does this anecdotal account confirm that Christians are belligerent and acerbic in their confrontation of dissent?

 

A first argument would be that for every “ignorant Christian” who claims to be the victim of unwarranted persecution, I can draw attention to the very same thing on the side of the secularist. I do wonder—why is it if I were to propose the positioning of a monument to honor Voltaire in Washington DC, this would go through a proper debate process and would be judged by its merits as an idea. Yet, if I suggested a statue of Moses or Jesus—it would instantly be struck down as an idea that violates the separation of Church and state? Arguably, Jesus and Moses have done much more to shape the understanding we have of freedom and individual liberty in this country than has Voltaire. Even through another perspective we see the bias. Why is it that among faculty members on the secular campus, which is made up of let’s say, 12% homosexuals—is the homosexual faculty member more likely to outwardly portray his/her sexuality in the tenure process than is the 2% of the faculty made up by Evangelical Christians? What about this minority group? It as if we are allowed to have our beliefs in private, but they must be stricken from the public square. If we put up a statue of Moses, is that the same thing as the government endorsing Moses as the only way?  Political Scientiest Dinesh D’Souza asserts,

“But you have no problem with government removing all religious symbols from the public square and you don’t see that as government endorsing atheism or secularism?…I want the public square open to both Moses and the 10 Commandments and to Voltaire.”

I agree with Dinesh D’Souza, when asked by Bill Ayers to give a “full-throated support for queer rights,” asserts:

“I believe in the United States we are all a minority of one and we are each entitled to the full rights made available to us in the Bill of Rights.”

I wonder if many on the left would give a full throated support for the rights of evangelical Christians to be recognized, and to be protected from “derogatory comments from other citizens.”

I also agree with D’Souza who says,

“I submit that if you were a professor here (Dartmouth) before the tenure committee, the defender of queer theory would have every reason to expect to be promoted, while the evangelical Christian would have to hide his true views.”

We are a minority of one. Persecution is inevitable at some point for all people.

I don’t know that I would agree at all with the author’s (Mrs. Moss) premise (and I have read her book). I think she has a fundamental misunderstanding of what Christianity is all about—as do many people.  Are Christians persecuted? Yes. Should we expect it? Yes. Consider:

 

“And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets – who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated – of whom the world was not worthy – wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should be made perfect. Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”—1 Hebrews 11:32-12:2

Love is costly by definition. Do you think that even though something may be offered to someone for nothing—that means that it didn’t cost the giver anything? It may indeed cost all. The trouble is that I think many in the church—when it comes to the issue of witnessing to people of other worldviews seem to be looking for methods and means that will cost nothing. I think that the only way this could be achieved would be to separate love from our method. Perhaps this is why some of Christianity comes across as abrasive or crude. If one only employs methodology, they will have no love in their action. If the only employ love, they will have no method. They must be coexistent.

Do you not think it is interesting that nearly every action by Jesus in the New Testament is an example of a “costly demonstration of unexpected love?”  Consider, the father leaving the house to run to the prodigal, the Samaritan carrying the man into the Jewish village, the Shepherd leaving the 99 to find the one–or the woman who must get down on her hands and knees to search for one coin.  It doesn’t stop there!  What about Jesus who has no time for the crowd in Jericho (the oppressed), but has time for Zacchaeus (the oppressor)? You notice in that story, the moment that Jesus shows love for Zacchaeus, the anger of the crowed moves from Zacchaeus to Jesus.  A costly demonstration of unexpected love.

Now, we must understand—Rejected love is painful—without question. In fact, Jesus Christ expressed pain and hurt in the face of rejection. There is a mandate for us to give our lives to the lost in the same way that he reached to us through the incarnation and the Cross. Wasn’t it E.M Bounds who remarked,

“The world is looking for better methods, God is looking for better men.”

I think that as Christians we should concentrate more on changing hearts than changing our methods.

Well, what about persecution more specifically?

Do you know what Jesus said about persecution? He said it was part of the job. You can understand that as—“expect it.” Jesus, in preparing his disciples for the trials of this world, told them that difficulty would come. They might have thought that, with God on their side, no suffering would ever befall them. Jesus however told them:

“I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think that he is offering service to God…”

Right before he said that—he said this,

“And you also will bear witness…”

More than mere persecution—What do you know about the word witness? It comes from the Greek word “martys.” Do you know what that means? “Martys” was translated to Latin as “martir,” and it developed through history to become the word “martyr.” If you are interested in this, Michael Jensen from Oxford has a wonderfully erudite dissertation on the matter. He says that without question, our word martyr can be traced without any question—to the word that we read in the Bible as “witness.” Don’t take Michael or my word for it though. Even in the New Testament—there is a clear connection between being a witness and suffering. We are told that being called to be a witness means that suffering will come for Christians. Christ said, “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” He goes on to say, “The world hated me.” Should we be surprised at the hatred we attract because of His name?

Take the earlier Hebrews passage: Faith and faithfulness to God lead to great victories in His name. What happened? Well—kingdoms were conquered, justice enforced, promises were obtained, the moths of lions were frozen, fire was quenched, people escaped the sword, enemy armies were put to retreat, and women received back their dead! It also shows that this came at great cost! Some were tortured, mocked, flogged, put in chains and imprisoned, stoned, sawn in two, and impaled and killed with the sword. I would say that they were the ones whom the world was not worthy.

Any thought about witnessing without cost is fraudulent. There were miracles and there were martyrdoms. This is no contradiction—but rather, the knowledge that we are called to serve—and to give our lives in His name—and one day we will be called home.

We must remember that we follow in the footsteps of “martyrs,” or the witnesses who went before us. These were not spectators who watched what went on. They have come before us and finished the race. The Bible doesn’t say they were a small group—in fact, it calls them, “A cloud of witnesses.” They are now spectators seated in stands that are not lightly filled. The stands are packed—with many who gave their lives for Him. Christians shouldn’t lose heart, or their way—but rather fix their eyes on Christ. We should run after Him—who was despised with the shame of the Cross—and is now seated at the right hand of God!

Now to deal directly with what she says in the book. This is actually not a unique time in history. There has always been a cost to reaching people with the Gospel. Many Christians are unwilling to pay it, however. The truth is though; this is the context in which the Gospel took root in the world and spread. To preach a sermon of repentance and faith has and will always be a challenge. A good friend of mine shares the gospel in Islamic countries. He noted to me that,

“I have had the privilege of speaking in some parts of the world in which personal safety cannot be guaranteed. It is always disappointing to hear some people’s concerns that maybe I shouldn’t go to a particular place because the risks are too great. “

 

Our goal as Christians isn’t to conserve our lives, but rather to give it. We are not called to ignore risk or employ reckless abandon. We believe in prayerful consideration. But my friend is right when he says, “But to refuse God’s call to go because of hardship is to demand something that the first Apostles would struggle to recognize as genuine Christian obedience.”

I am struck that the Hebrews passage contains numerous inferences to the hope of the resurrection. We don’t follow the3 dead—but rather those who have new life in Christ—this is a resurrected life that Christ has already won. We don’t fear death—for if we lose our life for Him, we end up keeping it!

This passage in Hebrews is riddled through from beginning to end with the hope of the resurrection. We follow in the footsteps, not of the dead, but of those who have the hope of new life in Christ, a resurrected life that Christ has already won for us. Let us not fear death; if we lose our life for Christ we end up keeping it.

Here are two final thoughts. In the early church, everyone was by definition “of another faith.” We learn a great deal just by looking at the NT. Have you seen what A.A. Trites has written on the Gospel of John? He says,

“The Fourth Gospel provides the setting for the most sustained controversy in the NT. Here Jesus has a lawsuit with the world. His witnesses include John the Baptist, the Scriptures, the words and works of Christ, and later the witness of the apostles and the Holy Spirit. [I would add that we too are being called as witnesses.] They are opposed by the world… John has a case to present, and for this reason he advances arguments, ask juridical questions and presents witnesses after the fashion of the OT assembly. The same observation is true of the Book of Acts, though Luke develops his case somewhat differently from John.  All of this material is suggestive for twentieth-century apologists. The person and place of Jesus… is still very much a contested issue. The claims of Christ as the Son of God are currently widely disputed. In such an environment a brief must be presented, arguments advanced and defending witnesses brought forward, if the Christian case is to be given a proper hearing. To fail to present the evidence for the Christian position would be tantamount to conceding defeat to its opponents. That is to say, the controversy theme, so evident in the NT, appears to be highly pertinent to the missionary task of the Church today… it is noteworthy that faithful witness often entails suffering and persecution.”

 

There are three marks of these Biblical witnesses.

 

1.  They are passionately involved in the material they present.  They have been apprehended by it, and they have a compulsory drive to share it with others.  We cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.

 

3.  We must be true to the bare facts of the Gospel, but also be responsible for sharing their meaning.  Thirdly, witnesses must be faithful not only to the bare facts of the Christ-event, but also to their meaning. As John Piper quips,

“If we cannot explain the good news of the gospel, it is neither news nor is it good.”

 

 

We must also give thought to our credibility. If a person is an eye-witness to something, but there are a known drunk—their credibility will be in question. We are told to be known by our fruit (singular fruit with plural taste). Titus says that the, “purpose of Christ’s death was to purify for himself a people enthusiastic for good works.” This is not the foundation of our salvation, but it is the evidence of it. By our evidence, the Gospel message is, “adorned and commended to others.”

 

 

Where I would focus my polemic on the church is not that they incessantly whine about being persecuted, but rather that they have wrestled perpetually with the balance between good works, having people eager to do good works, and the preached word of the Gospel. The Gospel and evidence must go together. Even the writers of the Lausanne Covenant said it this way: “The church may evangelize (preach the Gospel); but will the world hear and heed its message? Not unless the church retains its own integrity. If we hope to be listened to, we must practice what we preach… In particular, the Cross must be as central to our lives as it is to our message. Do we preach Christ crucified (I Cor. 1:23)? Then let us remember that a church which preaches the Cross must itself be marked by the Cross.”

 

 There must be evidence of the Cross in our lives. If not, we will only be seen as giving theories. The world doesn’t want theories, it wants real people who have truly been transformed.  Without being willing to accept being willing to lay down our lives, we have all theory and no action. On the flip side, to spring into action with no Gospel would be just as absurd. I wonder if we as Christians are prepared for the cost.

 

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